No Conscience In This Cabinet!

Never before have so many disgusting lies been uttered in one room in a short few hours’ time.  The scene: Trump’s first full cabinet meeting.  The first lie … a yuge lie indeed … came from Trump himself as he opened the meeting saying, “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions, the case of FDR – he had a major Depression to handle – who’s passed more legislation who’s done more things than what we’ve done.” I wonder if the boys and girls in the meeting actually believed that, or if they merely played along? I’m not sure how anybody could have believed him when he has not managed to pass a single major piece of legislation yet, nor is he likely to any time soon.

But the boys and girls who serve as secretaries, directors and senior staff pandered to his ego and praised him as if he were somebody he is not.  For Trump, the first part of the meeting, while the press was in attendance, it was a stage, an opportunity for him to preen, an opportunity of which he took full advantage.

He said he wanted to go around the table and have everyone introduce themselves, as if the whole world isn’t already familiar with the contingent of clowns.  “I’m going to start with our vice-president. Where is our vice-president?” Trump asked, swiveling his head to look for Mike Pence before spotting him seated in the vice-president’s assigned seat, directly across from the president. “There he is,” Trump said jovially to titters from the others. “We’ll start with Mike and then we’ll just go around, your name, your position,” Trump instructed, like a teacher on the first day of school.

And this is where it goes from ridiculous to bizarre …

Vice President Mike Pence: “This is just the greatest privilege of my life.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “It is so great to be here.”

Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley: “It’s a new day at the United Nations. I think the international community knows we’re back.”

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry: “My hat’s off to you.”

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao: “I want to thank you for getting this country moving again.”

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda.”

Secretary of Labour Alexander Costa: “I am privileged to be here. Deeply honored.”

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price: “What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue: “A lot of us just got back from Mississippi. They love you there.”

Are you feeling ill yet? As soon as the adulation was over, Trump dismissed the press from the room.  As I said, it was a stage, an opportunity for all the world to see just how much he is adored and praised by his minions.  Typically, in another administration, this group would be referred to as the “brain trust”, but I cannot bring myself to use that term here, for there seems to be very little in the way of ‘brains’.

The most interesting thing is that at least some of the people who claimed to be so enamoured of Trump have had serious and ongoing disputes with him.  Jeff Sessions, for example, reportedly tendered his resignation a few weeks ago.  Trump declined to accept it, but nonetheless it indicates that there is conflict there.  And just a few days ago, Trump informed Reince Priebus that he had only until July 4th to “clean up the White House” or else lose his job.  Which leads me to believe that this whole little show put on for the press was scripted.  I strongly suspect that these people were told to praise the Idiot-in-Chief effusively, else they might find themselves in the same unemployment line as former FBI Director James Comey.  I would not be surprised to find that Steve Bannon, who was sitting directly behind Trump during the meeting, gave each person a piece of paper with what they were to say written upon it. That they went along shows us just how unreliable, untrustworthy, what a bunch of wusses and liars these people running our country are.

Christopher Lu, who served as Assistant to the President and White House Cabinet Secretary under President Obama, tweeted, “I ran 16 Cabinet meetings during Obama’s 1st term. Our Cabinet was never told to sing Obama’s praises. He wanted candid advice not adulation.”  Well, that is the difference between a president and a thin-skinned clown.  Trump’s own tweet read, “Finally held our first full @Cabinet meeting today. With this great team, we can restore American prosperity and bring real change to D.C.”  The ‘man’ is wearing rose-coloured glasses, apparently.

This is not one of the world’s most earth-shattering news items, but it is telling, I think, of what we have in the Oval Office.  We have a ‘man’ who places far more importance on being praised than on doing the job for which he was hired.  He is far more attuned to what his paid pansies say, whether they are sincere or not, than to what We The People think.  He is still nothing more than an actor playing a role, and doing so very badly.  His minions who praised him ad nauseam traded their collective consciences for their jobs.  When his ship sinks, they will all be on it and we will say, “Good Riddance”.


Poverty … A State of Mind????

“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind.” – Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Department of Housing and Urban Development

Yesterday morning Dr. Ben Carson was interviewed by Armstrong Williams, a longtime friend, and the interview was aired yesterday evening on SiriusXM Radio.  A few snippets from that interview:

“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there. And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”

“There’s also a poverty of spirit. You develop a certain mindset. I think the majority of people don’t have that defeatist attitude, but they sometimes just don’t see the way, and that’s where government can come in and be very helpful. It can provide the ladder of opportunity, it can provide the mechanism that will demonstrate to them what can be done.”

Try telling that to the single mother of four who struggles every day to put food on the table and every month to pay the rent.


Carson tours the apartment of Ms. Tracy Grant


87-year-old Alzene Munnerlyn

Earlier this month Carson toured facilities for the poor in Columbus, Ohio where he explained in an interview that in his view, compassion means not giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”  Although he toured a number of apartments occupied by low income people, he gave the people almost no opportunity to speak with him, to help him to understand their situations.  87-year-old Alzene Munnerlyn living in senior housing said that although he spent about 10 minutes in her apartment, she was not given an opportunity to converse with him. “It was staged. It was so fast.” A dog-and-pony show, some called it.  A photo op … look at the magnanimous Dr. Ben Carson.

At a supportive housing center for drug addicts in Lancaster, Ohio, Trisha Farmer, the chief executive of the Recovery Center, pleaded for more federal help to house recovering addicts. Mr. Carson interjected. “We are talking about incentivizing those who help themselves,” he said, before again asking minutes later about how comfortable the facility was letting people get.

As Zerlina Maxwell tweeted, “Ben Carson said poverty is a state of mind. Next month, I’m going to tell my landlord that I paid my rent with positive thinking!”

I awarded Dr. Carson Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week award on March 7th, just a few days after his Senate confirmation. I noted at that time that Carson is as unqualified as Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education) and Jeff Sessions (Attorney General), but no surprise.  Living in the inner city as a child does not, in and of itself, qualify one for the job of Secretary of HUD.  Now, however, Carson lives in a home with an estimated value of $1.2 million and recently purchased a “get-a-way” home in Florida for $4.375 million. His annual salary is just short of $200,000, and according to Forbes, his net worth is $29 million. This is the man who claims to understand poverty, and this is the man upon whom people needing housing assistance must depend.  Spare me. Carson has a complete lack of government experience, lack of knowledge of the issues surrounding his new department and, more importantly, lack of understanding what it is like simply trying to scrape together the rent money each month … all of that makes him remarkably un-qualified.

On Tuesday, Trump’s proposed budget went to the House of Representatives with no chance of passing in its current state.  The budget calls for deep cuts in HUD programs … nearly $6 billion per year. Under those circumstances, HUD needs a strong director, someone who believes in the goals of the agency — to help people; someone who will fight to keep sufficient funding to meet those goals.  Instead, they have a Trump ‘yes-man’, a pansy.

The one bright spot came last month.  Carson has been touring low-income housing in cities around the nation since he took over as Director of HUD, and in April, when he was touring a facility in Miami, he was stuck in an elevator for 20 minutes until the fire department could arrive to free him.  Poetic justice, yes?

Here are a few shots of Carson’s home, just for comparison purposes.


Send In The Clowns

Trump has allowed some 500+ positions to remain unfilled in his administration, in part I imagine because he is having a hard time finding people who are actually willing to become a part of the circus train and risk the ruination of their careers.  However, there are still a few short-sighted clowns out there, driven mainly by greed and the promise of feathering their own nest.  Two such have come onto my radar this morning, and as usual, Trump’s selections reflect the very antithesis of the departments they have been chosen to oversee.

The USDA’s Research, Economics and Education division studies everything from climate change to nutrition. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, its leader is supposed to serve as the agency’s “chief scientist” and be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”  So who has Trump tagged to head this important division?  A man who is neither distinguished nor a scientist, one Sam Clovis.

Clovis-1Who, you ask, is Sam Clovis?  Until he joined Trump’s campaign in 2015, he was a tenured professor at Morningside College in his hometown of Sioux City, Iowa.  He took leave from that position to work on the Trump campaign, however is not welcomed back by the college.  After Clovis was quoted defending the Trump campaign’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States, the link between Clovis and the college was broken. A statement from the college said, “We find the view that a particular religion should be discriminated against to be repugnant to the values held at Morningside College. When he was on campus, Dr. Clovis was a staunch defender of the Constitution and a strong advocate for religious freedom. His recent comments appear to be at odds with his earlier views. We find his recent position to be outrageous and disappointing.”

Clovis is a retired Air Force colonel who holds a doctorate in public administration, yet has never taken a graduate course in science and is openly skeptical of climate change. Clovis is better known for hosting a conservative talk radio show in his native Iowa and, after mounting an unsuccessful run for Senate. In 2014, he became a fiery pro-Trump advocate on television. Clovis was also responsible for recruiting Carter Page, whose ties to Russia have become the subject of intense speculation and scrutiny, as a Trump foreign policy advisor.

Catherine Woteki, who served as undersecretary for research, education and economics in the Obama administration, compared the move to appointing someone without a medical background to lead the National Institutes of Health.  Let us not give him any ideas here!

Past undersecretaries have been biochemists, plant physiologists, food nutrition experts, and public health experts. Since Clovis has not a single qualification for the position, this is obviously another case of a political favour being returned, and I’m sure his stance against both climate change research and Muslims entering the United States didn’t hurt either.  Clovis will yet have to be confirmed by the Senate, but as we have seen in past appointments that is more or less a rubber-stamp. What happened to ‘draining the swamp’?

Noreika-1Next up on the ol’ radar machine is financial services lawyer Keith Noreika who Trump has already placed as head of the Office of the Comptroller.  Two things disturb me greatly:  a) his appointment is a classic case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, and b) Trump placed him in the position in a devious manner, bypassing the need for Senate confirmation which might have been a tough sell.  Let us look first at Mr. Noreika’s history.

I’m sure you remember the financial crisis of 2007-2008, right?  The one republicans blamed President Obama for, even though he had not even been elected yet. Noreika played a role in causing that by representing big banks in the early 2000s in lawsuits designed to protect banks from states’ regulations that would protect consumers.  Banks successfully sued to stop Iowa from limiting their ability to charge ATM fees to non-customers. They also fought off states’ attempts to stop them from charging non-customers to cash checks drawn on the banks’ accounts. In another case, they stopped California from forcing two banks to conduct audits of their own residential mortgages. And Noreika represented the banks in all these cases and more … cases whose results contributed to the financial crisis that began in 2007.

During President Obama’s first term, legislation was passed aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the most notable of which was the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act regulatory overhaul.  Trump has called Dodd-Frank “a disaster”, even though it is doubtful he understands any part of it. In removing federal controls from the banking industry, an industry that has proven that greed outweighs all else, we would be setting the stage for a repeat of 2008. But that is exactly what Noreika seems prepared to do.

The second issue I have here is the way in which it was done, slyly and in an obvious attempt to circumvent the confirmation process and avoid certain ethics requirements. So how did this happen?  First, he was hired as ‘first deputy’ in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a designation that ensured he would ascend to the top job once it opened. Then the administration ousted Thomas Curry, and just like that, Noreika became acting comptroller. Sneaky, huh? And having attained the position in this way means there is no requirement for public disclosure of an ethics agreement or his former clients.

Noreika’s position, attained in this manner, is limited by law to a term of no more than 130 days, but that is sufficient time for him to do significant damage. Donald Trump has promised his friends in the banking industry that he will gut financial regulations. Both Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchnin have pledged to “unshackle Wall Street” from financial-crisis-era regulations.  It appears that with this shady move, they are well on their way to keeping their promises to their wealthy buddies.  And I’m sure I do not need to remind you who will be picking up the tab.

So, once again Trump has selected two of the absolute worst possible choices for top-level positions.  And the circus train rolls on … and on … and where it stops … nobody knows …

Rex Tillerson States: US State Department Needs To Focus Less On Human Rights’ Issues

Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon-Mobil, was confirmed by the Senate in February as Secretary of State. A less qualified, less appropriate choice has, perhaps, never been appointed to this office. Fellow-blogger and friend, Gronda Morin, has done a great deal of research on Mr. Tillerson, and as always, her facts and assessment are spot on. Tillerson is on track to destroy America’s standing as one of the most respected nations in the world. As evidence, one comment noted in Gronda’s post stuck out: “He also signaled that the United States would de-emphasize human rights concerns in some of its interactions with other countries.” Please take a few moments to read Gronda’s post, for it is by far the best assessment of Tillerson that I have seen. Thank you, Gronda, for your excellent research and for permission to share.

Gronda Morin

Tillerson/ Lavrov

Today 5/3/17, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took 40 minutes to lay out to the state department’s employees, his plan to support the republican President Donald Trump’s strategy to “make American great/ first again.”

What was most alarming about his monologue is this commentary “In some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals.” This is code for the state department’s intent to place less emphases on its encouragement for the improving of “human rights” conditions around the world.
It is important to note that he personally, and his former employer, ExxonMobil where he was its CEO, HAS SEVERAL LAWSUITS FILED AGAINST IT, WHICH ARE STILL IN PROCESS, FROM PEOPLES AROUND THE WORLD FOR SERIOUS HUMAN RIGHTS’ INFRACTIONS.

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Breaking News: WH Is Not Cooperating With U.S. Oversight Committee (Mike Flynn)

Never before, even during Watergate, even during Iran-contra, has there been as much blatant disregard for the law, as much blatant conflict-of-interest, as in the current administration. Blogger-friend Gronda has done an excellent job in recapping the latest in a long series of conflicts and ethics violations in the Trump administration. Please take a few minutes to read this synopsis, as I believe this has the potential to turn into a scandal of epic proportions in the coming days. Thank you, Gronda, for your excellent work and for permission to share!

Gronda Morin

Image result for images of elijah cummings Cummings/ Chaffetz

On 4/25/17, both the republican chair Jason Chafftez from Utah and the democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings from Georgia held a press conference to announce that the White House is refusing to cooperate with their investigation into the president’s former National Security Adviser ret. Lt. General Mike Flynn. The U.S, House Intelligence Committee members were requesting documents regarding what information the general disclosed as he was being vetted for this top post but the White House has refused to comply.

As per the 4/25/17 NCRM report by David Badash, “You Simply Cannot Take Money From Russia, Turkey, or Anybody Else’ Chaffetz Says

“House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings say it appears former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn took payments from Russia and Turkey and did not follow the law by asking for and receiving permission to do so. Chairman Chaffetz says if Flynn…

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Yet Another Poor Choice …

Last week, while we were intently focused on the bombing of an alleged Daesh hideout in Afghanistan, the increasing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and Trump’s various incoherent tweets ‘n twits, there was other news, largely unnoticed.  This one crossed my radar yesterday ……

On Wednesday, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, formally announced Candice Jackson as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Ms. Jackson will act as assistant secretary in charge of the office until the position of secretary is filled. By law, she can serve in the position for only 210 days, however we have seen how Trump reverses laws with a swipe of his pen. DeVos has not yet selected a nominee, who would require confirmation by the Senate.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education that is primarily focused on protecting civil rights in federally assisted education programs and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, handicap, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.

In the 2016 fiscal year, the office processed almost 17,000 civil rights complaints, and opened 4,000 investigations. In the days after the Trump administration rescinded the guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, representing 60 organizations, sent a letter to Ms. DeVos asking for the next head of the civil rights office to have a track record of upholding student rights, and fighting systemic and individual cases of discrimination. The coalition, which includes organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and the National Women’s Law Center, called it “one of the most significant decisions you and the president will make with regard to the civil rights of the nation’s students.”

Jackson has very little to qualify her for this position, as she has scant experience in the field of civil rights law. She is a longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, who has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by an economist, Murray N. Rothbard (in line for a future Idiot of the Week award), who is strongly against both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

During her senior year at Stanford, Jackson complained that she was discriminated against because she was Caucasian, and said that “giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem.”  Around the same time, she also condemned feminism, saying, “In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals. College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards. I think many women are instinctively conservative, but are guided into the folds of feminism before discovering the conservative community.”

While everyone is certainly entitled to their personal opinion, Ms. Jackson’s opinions appear to be the direct antithesis to the ideology and responsibility of the office she has been tasked to oversee, in a manner similar to other Trump advisory selections.

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book, titled Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine, in which she criticized liberals for placing too much emphasis on helping women and people of color. She also wrote that sexual harassment laws and policies ignore “the reality that unwanted sexual advances are difficult to define.”  Hard to define? Interestingly, when a number of women accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment during the presidential campaign, Jackson referred to the women as “fake victims” who were lying “for political gain,”

There is nothing in Jackson’s past to indicate that she would aggressively protect civil rights in schools and college campuses.  In fact, quite the opposite, since she appears to find sexual harassment “difficult to define”.

So, just as we asked why Scott Pruitt was selected to lead the very department (EPA) he had sued thirteen times, we must ask why a woman who does not appear to support civil rights was tapped to lead the Office of Civil Rights?  The answer, I believe, is two-fold.  First, Trump appears determined to undermine certain offices and administrative agencies by selecting people whose beliefs are 180° different from the purpose of the office.  Second, there is Ms. Jackson’s contribution to Trump’s campaign last year.  What did she contribute?

Jackson helped the Trump campaign connect with three of former president Bill Clinton’s accusers in order to invite them to the second presidential debate before which Trump held a press conference with them highlighting President Clinton’s ‘victimization’ of them. Also of benefit to the Trump campaign, Jackson highlighted Hillary Clinton’s former role as a public defender, during which she represented a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl.  I firmly believe this position is a reward for the role she played in helping Trump in his smear campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Betsy DeVos’s first official policy act was to support the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s federal guidance protecting the rights of transgender students. News organizations reported that DeVos was personally opposed to the action but went along with it. She went along … with a policy to which she was opposed.  What does this say about her willingness to fight for the rights of others?

The current administration has shown disdain for the enforcement of civil rights in the U.S. by the appointment of Jeff Sessions, a proven racist, to the office of Attorney General.  The selection of Jackson to lead, albeit temporarily, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is yet another slap in the face to the rights, of women, minorities, and the LGBT community.

Bye-Bye Bannon …

The Federal government is now filled with newbies who do not understand the jobs to which they have been assigned, do not understand governance, and are highly unqualified for the positions they occupy.  This includes the president, vice president and nearly all cabinet members, as well as other advisors.  They came into office thinking they would make their own rules as they went along, but after nearly three months, they are finding that actions have consequences, and appear to be floundering like fish out of water, while at the same time trying to cover their foibles and give the appearance that this is all part of some grand plan.  Today’s ‘breaking news’ is further evidence of this.

Almost immediately after his inauguration, Trump announced a move that was considered by many to be both dangerous and stupid.  He reorganized the National Security Council by elevating his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

nscThe National Security Council was established in 1947 by President Harry Truman.  Its primary function is to advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policy issues. It was created because policymakers felt that the diplomacy of the State Department was no longer adequate to contain the USSR in light of the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States.


Steve ‘Breitbart’ Bannon

Steve Bannon, who has been considered Trump’s closest advisor, is a member of the alt-right, a known racist, white-supremacist, neo-Nazi, islamaphobe.  He is the ‘former’ CEO of Breitbart, though most speculate he is still calling the shots there.  He has absolutely zero experience in governance, and nothing in his background qualified him for a position on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council.

Today, Bannon was removed from the National Security Council, and theories about the reason are not in short supply.  The Joint Chiefs chairman and intelligence director are having their roles as “regular attendees” of the Principals Committee restored.  So … what prompted this move?  It depends on who you ask.  Here are a few:

Steve Bannon“Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration. I was put on to ensure that it was de-operationalized. General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function.”

Amy Siskind: “BREAKING: Bannon is off the National Security Council! If I’m a betting woman, with the world in chaos, I’d bet McMaster finally told Trump my way or I’m gone!”

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labour, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley:  “Trump reorganized his National Security Council today, removing his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, from the NSC’s principals committee. Translated: Bannon screwed up so badly on the healthcare bill that Jared and Ivanka have maneuvered to reduce Bannon’s influence on Trump, at least for the time being. But the White House continues to be such as cesspool of back-stabbing intrigue and chaos that Bannon could be back any moment.”

David Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine: “I think if you give somebody with no experience and a political agenda, and a dubious one at that, a permanency, it casts the on-demand participation of the chairman of joint chiefs and director of national intelligence in a very different light, because it’s saying, ‘We are not prioritizing professional expertise; we’re prioritizing political agenda.’ “

A number of White House officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Bannon’s sole purpose on the NSC was to keep an eye on (former) National Security Advisor, Mike Flynn, who was terminated within days of accepting his position due to lying about conversations he had in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.  This explanation makes no sense, because if Trump did not trust Flynn and felt he required a watch dog, why did he choose Flynn in the first place?  However, I have quit looking for anything coming out of this administration to make sense, so who knows?


Gen. H.R. McMaster

My opinion has no more merit than any of those listed above (except Bannon, as he is speaking the party line), but for what it is worth, I believe National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster may have convinced Trump, either with logic (who am I kidding???) or with threat of resignation.  Before McMaster was selected to replace Flynn, Retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward was selected, but turned down the position because it was made clear that he would lack any degree of autonomy, and not even be allowed to select his own staff.  Perhaps McMaster has taken a tough stand on this issue, and it is certainly understandable why he would not want Bannon, who has nothing to contribute, taking up space on the committee while the important people take a backseat.

McMaster is one of the very few people in this administration who is both qualified for the position and seems to be of good character.  Even a majority of Democratic senators voted to confirm him last month in a vote of 86-10.  I was first impressed by McMaster in February when he pushed back against Trump’s insistence on using the term “radical Islamic terrorism”, saying it is not helpful to the U.S. in working with allies to defeat global terrorism.  It said that he has the courage to stand by his convictions and to stand up to Trump.

We may never know exactly what drove the strange scenario as to why Bannon was given a place on the Principals Committee, then removed less than three months later, but I cannot help wondering if this may signal a cooling of the relationship between Trump and Bannon.  If so, that can only be seen, I think, as a good thing.  Bannon is a loose cannon, a self-professed Leninist who has said he wants to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” 

cautionOne word of caution … let us not get so distracted pondering the causes and effects of Bannon’s removal from the NSC that we take our eye off the ball … the main issue … the Russian connections between Team Trump and Team Putin.


Finally … A Good Pick? Maybe …

Last night (Wednesday), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration. The reason is likely that he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday, after even Mitch McConnell, the chief boot-licker in Congress, said that Puzder could not possibly win enough votes for confirmation.  I wrote about Puzder  back in early January, and did not view him as a good fit for the office.  But my concerns, such as the fact that he is against raising minimum wage rates, supports repealing ACA, criticizes sick leave policies, and uses sexist advertising in his businesses, are not what doomed his nomination.  No, what doomed his nomination was that he came out in support of legalized immigration!  The man finally said one thing that made sense, and he is politically murdered for it!  No less than seven Republican senators said they would not vote to confirm Puzder.  Five of these seven actually voted to confirm the likes of DeVos and Sessions, however.

But Puzder is gone … good riddance … and this brings me to a potential bright spot on the otherwise dark horizon:  Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice to replace Puzder as nominee for Secretary of Labour.  Everything I have read about Mr. Acosta points to a man who seeks to serve justice rather than to ‘win at all costs’.  He appears to be a man who has the courage of his convictions, and I only wish he had been nominated for the position of Attorney General rather than the racist lout who was placed in that all-important position.

A bit about Acosta’s background:

  • He is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Judge Samuel Alito, at that time a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for a year after graduation.
  • He then worked for a D.C. law firm where he specialized in employment and labor issues.
  • Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he served on the National Labour Relations Board.
  • In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
  • In 2005, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he served until 2009.
  • Since 2009 he has served as Dean of dean of Florida International University College of Law.
  • In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I am particularly impressed by the stands he has taken in the area of civil rights, particularly the rights of immigrants.  In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”  He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.

“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.” 

The senate has confirmed Acosta three times in the past, which is certainly encouraging, however the Acosta nomination is not without problems.  The main one is likely to be the controversy over a plea bargain his office arranged in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.  A case was brought against wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire investor accused of having sex with underage girls.  Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges if Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  The controversy came about because the teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. Not surprisingly, Trump has ties also to Epstein and while some claim that Trump and Epstein were friends, Trump denies it.

Setting the above controversy aside for the moment, it would otherwise seem that Acosta is, unlike all other Trump nominees, a good fit for the job.  He is an advocate of civil rights, and has served in various labour-related positions, including the NLRB. So what, exactly, does the position of Secretary of Labour involve?

According to the United States Department of Labour:

“The Department of Labor (DOL) fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.”

I am not sure to what extent the Epstein controversy will play a role in Acosta’s confirmation hearings.  For the final conclusion, you will have to … stay tuned!

Another White House Ghoul

Yet another of Trump’s top advisors that I have largely ignored is Stephen Miller.  But in the past few days he is flying around on my radar and making me very uncomfortable, so it is time to take a closer look at Mr. Miller.

Miller’s career path has not been what I would call illustrious.  He served as communications director for former senator and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which certainly does nothing to raise him in my esteem.  He was also press secretary for former Representative Michele Bachmann (former Idiot of the Week and also America’s #1 Bimbo), which again, is not a feather in his cap.  And now, Mr. Miller is a “senior advisor” to Donald Trump.

millerThough raised by two liberal, Democratic parents, he became a conservative while in high school after reading a book, Guns, Crime, and Freedom, by National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre. While still in high school, he started appearing on conservative talk radio shows and writing letters to editors.  While attending Duke University, he criticized poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, accusing her of “racial paranoia”, and also established a relationship with white supremacist, anti-Semitic Richard Spencer, about whom I have written before.   A former advisor at Duke later said of Miller that he, “seemed to assume that if you were in disagreement with him, there was something malevolent or stupid about your thinking — incredibly intolerant.”  Sound familiar?

Which brings us to present day.  As ‘Senior Advisor’, Miller was not subject to confirmation by the senate, and therefore officially began his new position on January 20th.  Until late last week, Miller kept a fairly low profile, or perhaps was simply overshadowed by Trump’s immigration ban and all the controversy it entailed, as well as the contentious confirmation hearings for DeVos and Sessions, among others.  But late last week, his name started appearing more often.

When the infamous ‘immigration ban’, banning people from entering the country from seven specific, Middle-Eastern, primarily Muslim countries was first signed into law, I was fairly certain its author was none other than Steve ‘Breitbart’ Bannon.  Turns out that Stephen Miller, Jeff Sessions and Bannon all corroborated on the order.  Three bloomin’ racists putting their big heads together … imagine the possibilities.

Once the travel ban was halted by U.S. District Judge James Robart, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reinstate the ban, Miller adamantly defended Trump’s crude and hateful criticism of the judge.  (It should be noted that, emboldened by Trump’s very unprofessional tweets condemning Judge Robart, the judge has been a target of many threats, including one referring to Robart as “dead man walking”.  This, people, is the president we elected.)  But back to Miller … he appeared yesterday morning on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, including an interview on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos where he told so many lies that The Washington Post wrote an entire fact-checking article  disproving nearly everything he said on the program.  Other questions he simply averted, as is the standard operating procedure for the Trump team.  Alternative facts and non-answers.  Click here  for the transcript of the entire interview. He later did another interview on CBS’ Face the Nation where he spouted more of the same.

Miller defends Trump’s verbal (Twitter) attacks on Judge Robart and the appeals court, supports and falsely claims knowledge of Trump’s assertion of massive voter fraud, and of the travel ban says that “all options are on the table”.  Despite, or perhaps because of his lies and evasions, Trump was proud of his boy Stephen, tweeting, “Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!” just minutes after the segment aired.

CNN considers that Miller may be the most powerful player in the White House, and I think that, in conjunction with Steve Bannon, that may well be true.  Certainly he is, with his racist views and links to white supremacists, one of the most frightening.  Glenn Thrush of the New York Times said, “The (Steve) Bannon cluster in the White House is moving full speed ahead in part because they don’t feel like they have a lot of time, and I think if you look at the backlash against the travel ban, they may not have that much time.”

The most immediately concerning thing to me is that Trump, Bannon, Miller and others seem to believe that the courts have overstepped their bounds in placing constitutionality over the power of the president.  The appeals court last week asked repeatedly for some evidence that there was a real threat of danger from the seven countries listed in the ban, but the Justice Department, which was defending the administration’s position, could not provide such evidence.  If the Trump administration ultimately has their way on this issue, it may set a powerful precedent for future cases where Trump and his minions make decisions that are unconstitutional and not in the best interest of the nation.  If the court’s power is reduced and the power of the executive office increased, we will have taken the first step toward an autocracy … a step that may be nearly impossible to reverse.  Along with Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller may complete a triumvirate that is destined to change the values of this nation.

The Plot Thickens …

flynnOne of Trump’s cabinet picks that I have not written about yet is National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.  I did not intentionally neglect him, but there are only so many hours in a day, and I simply had not gotten around to him.  Turns out, I should have. Flynn, a retired United States Army lieutenant general, served 33 years in the U.S. Army.  Trump named him to be National Security Advisor, a position which does not require the advice and consent of the Senate. Concerns about Flynn began almost immediately, for his purported close relations with Russia, and for his role in the smear campaign against Hillary Clinton, using fake news and conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit Ms. Clinton.

Having already proven that he is not above playing dirty pool, it should come as no surprise that he may have significantly breeched a code of conduct and broken the law on Christmas Day, 2016, during a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak.  That a conversation between Flynn and Kislyak took place on December 25th is verifiable fact.  The content of the conversation is what seems to be in dispute, and much is yet unknown.  However, I am a firm believer that when there is a lot of smoke in the house, you ought to call the fire department.  First, Flynn claimed that he only called Kislyak to wish him a “Merry Christmas”.  Then, it was said by the Trump transition team that the two discussed arrangements for a phone call between Trump and Putin.

Note that this was at a point during the final days of President Obama’s administration when he had a tough decision to make.  It had been confirmed that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC and releasing confidential information that may have affected the election.  As of December 25th, President Obama had made the decision to impose sanctions on Russia, but had not yet done so.

Now comes the part that is not, as yet, verified, but that may well be a smoking gun.  According to nine “unnamed current and former national security sources”, Flynn allegedly gave Kislyak a ‘heads up’ that President Obama planned to impose sanctions, but not to worry, as Trump would remove them once he took office.

In January, Mike Pence stated that the two “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.” Then as recently as Wednesday, Flynn was asked twice whether he had discussed the sanctions with Kislyak, to which he responded both times that he had not. Then the very next day, Thursday, Flynn’s spokesperson said that Flynn, “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”  He cannot remember if he discussed the forthcoming sanctions or not. This is where the trouble starts.

putinFour days after the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak, President Obama announced the sanctioning of Russian intelligence officials, expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats suspected of being spies and shutting down two Russian facilities in the United States. Many expected Putin to respond angrily and with retaliation, but instead he simply said, “It is regrettable that the Obama administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family.” It was puzzling, at the time, almost sinister, but if he already knew of the sanctions and knew they would soon be lifted, that would explain a lot. Trump, of course, condemned the president and praised Putin.

The FBI continues to investigate, and even if it can be proven that Flynn did, in fact, discuss the sanctions with Kislyak, the outcome is still uncertain. I cannot speculate. Flynn served under President Obama as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency until his firing (or resignation, depending on which version you read) in 2014, amid controversy about his chaotic management style (a good fit with his current boss, yes?).  Under another president, Flynn would likely be ousted if the accusations prove true, but under Trump, even the political analysts are not predicting what will happen.  Trump will almost certainly attempt to put some positive spin on the whole thing, but first you can bet that he will call it all ‘fake news’ by a ‘biased media’.  Meanwhile … stay tuned …